UP 2.0: How Shantanu Gupta became privy to a makeover
Author and entrepreneur Shantanu Gupta busts myths about Uttar Pradesh and its chief minister in an interview with YourStory
- Uttar Pradesh was once known as mafia land due to the fear of criminals. Author and entrepreneur Shantanu Gupta believes that the situation has reversed.
- The author of a trilogy on UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath, Shantanu has experienced change first-hand.
- Shantanu is of the view that unfair treatment has been meted out to his home state, Uttar Pradesh, by media organisations of the West.
- Shantanu adds that Uttar Pradesh has surpassed several economic hubs in the country and is now ranked second in the ease of doing business.
Every time I visit Varanasi, I am engulfed by a sea of unspoken divinity. The vibrancy of the city, its spiritual environment, and the Ganges fill me with a deep sense of peace and stillness. But mixed in with its Assi Ghat, Banarasi silk, and Banaras Hindu University are malls and large, gleaming office buildings, young women wearing branded sneakers, smartphones playing the latest hits and busy intersections crowded by bikes driven by delivery personnel in colourful shirts waiting impatiently for the traffic lights to turn green.
But it is not just Varanasi that has transformed, the phenomenon can be extended to the rest of Uttar Pradesh as well. Author and entrepreneur Shantanu Gupta has watched this transformation patiently. I wanted to hear his views on who engineered this change and how it happened.
The Ganges present the perfect backdrop for this conversation with Shantanu, who is widely considered a definitive expert on UP. An investment banker turned entrepreneur and author, he is the author of three books on Yogi Adityanath, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. Shantanu is also the founder of The Ramayana School, an ed-tech platform that offers life lessons from Ramayana.
“As a UP resident, I noticed the misinformation being spread about my home state and its chief minister. My endeavour was to bust these myths through facts,” says Shantanu Gupta in an interview with YourStory.
He left his plush investment banking job in Switzerland and returned to India in his ambition to participate in nation-building. Working on grassroots initiatives in education and policy made Shantanu realise the hidden potential in his home state. But at the same time, he observed how there was a perception bias that skews how Uttar Pradesh is viewed and discussed. That’s when he decided to counter what he calls “the Western media agenda” with facts. His book on Yogi Adityanath is a result of this ambition.
Carving out the Yogi story
Born in Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh, Shantanu had a humble upbringing in a small government housing facility. On completing his school education at Kendriya Vidyalaya, he pursued engineering and later a management degree. Armed with these skills, he worked as a consultant in several companies in India and overseas but he always felt that something was amiss.
“I was working, no doubt. But I was yearning for 'real work', work that changes the lives of people. Plus, I also missed home, the hustle and bustle of people, the colours, the festivals. All these factors gave me courage to leave my comfort zone in the corporate world,” he adds.
Shantanu wanted to be a change-maker in his motherland. So he decided to quit his high-paying job and move back to begin his second career as a social worker in search of seva and karma.
The year was 2017, Uttar Pradesh had a new CM. But unlike previous chief ministers who came from political dynasties, chief minister Yogi Adityanath was a monk.
Yogi Adityanath, born Ajay Singh Bisht, has a rather interesting rise to prominence. He was born in a middle-class family and lived a regular life till his graduation. When he was pursuing his Masters's degree in mathematics, he had an awakening of sorts. Ajay Bisht left home to join the Gorakhnath Math. Soon after, he relinquished his regular life and turned into a monk. Donning saffron robes, Ajay embraced monkhood as Yogi Adityanath. But the bigger twist in the tale came when Yogi Adityanath was elected as UP’s chief minister.
This radical change in his home state's political and social flavour prompted Shantanu to find a new avatar as a grassroots worker. This got him closer to the youth of India so he could understand their ambitions, their goals and also the gaps in their knowledge.
“Friends and family often asked, ‘How can a monk become a CM?’ Somewhere I had that question too and hence decided to investigate,” he adds.
The first stop was Gorakhnath Math. There, Shantanu studied the inner workings of the institution and its array of social activities. He explains that the Math runs 44 institutions, including a nursing institute, an ayurvedic hospital, and several schools.
“Administrative skills came naturally to Yogi from his extensive experience overseeing the workings of Gorakhnath Math. During this time, he was also elected to the Parliament multiple times and has seen 19 budgets being presented. This experience came handy when he took over the reins of UP as its CM,” Shantanu adds.
These findings culminated in his first book of the Yogi trilogy, The Monk Who Became Chief Minister: The Definitive Biography of Yogi Adityanath.
Now that Shantanu had closely tracked the chief minister’s journey, he was determined to dig deeper. Yogi’s childhood and college life, for instance, was relatively unknown to the public. And being a monk who had sacrificed his past, the CM never spoke about his pre-monkhood days. So, Shantanu had to start from scratch.
“I visited Uttarakhand and met his parents and siblings to get a glimpse of the Ajay they knew. His school days, transition to college, and leading up to his entry to Gorakhnath Math,” adds Shantanu.
As Yogi’s parents and siblings narrated stories and eventful incidents, Shantanu understood the fundamental character trait of the CM. “Even as a child, he was a man of action, had a go-getter attitude, and was someone who stood up boldly against unjust situations,” explains the author.
With a well-researched stock of information, Shantanu was able to write another book. Titled Ajay to Yogi Adityanath, this book chronicles the life of Yogi Adityanath from childhood to monkhood. Being an educator at heart, Shantanu designed this book as a graphic novel targeted at young readers.
Revisiting the UP perception
A UP boy to the core, it won’t be wrong to call Shantanu the brand ambassador of Uttar Pradesh. He is someone who has witnessed the state’s facelift and has been keen to counter ambiguity with facts.
“There are certain narratives painted about UP and CM Yogi. But having analysed Yogi Adityanath’s life from close quarters, I can confidently say that he commands respect from people across communities. In fact, there is faith that ‘if Yogi commits, the local administration has to deliver’. You may agree or disagree with his strategies, but you have to admit that he is an honest politician,” adds Shantanu.
A lot has changed since Yogi Adityanath took office. Shantanu believes that UP has shed its ‘mafia raj” tag and has become a feared state for criminals. Further, it has become a competitive business ecosystem taking the second spot in ease of doing business.
“Investment has become top priority in Uttar Pradesh. Look at Noida and how the government has gone out of its way to alleviate the concerns of global manufacturers such as Samsung. Look at the upcoming Film City project. Look at the Global Investment Summit and the continued investor interest. These are clear indicators of change,” says Shantanu.
His book, The Monk Who Transformed Uttar Pradesh, is a testimony to UP’s switch from a bimaru (economically lagging) state to an investment hub. Shantanu has seen radical change happen on a daily basis. The next big reform on the radar is reshaping Uttar Pradesh into a $1 trillion economy. When UP achieves that accomplishment, Shantanu will add another sequel to his trilogy.